Why I Continue to Breastfeed My 5 Year Old
I am breastfeeding a 5 year old.
You heard that right!
I breastfeed an almost 5 year old and I am immensely proud of it.
We have even had a lot of funny conversations within the family that center around breast milk.
My child once told his grandfather, who was asking for the child to sleep near him “I will drink two sides and then come”. The bewildered grandfather (my dad) looked to me for an explanation, and was in splits upon knowing what the child meant.
So, you see, in a way, this is also my contribution towards normalizing extended and full term breastfeeding.
What is breastfeeding?
Nursing or breastfeeding is the most natural way of nourishing an infant who has just made his way into the world from his parent’s womb. Colostrum, which is the yellowish, sticky breast milk lactated and fed to the infant within the first hour after birth, is prized for its immune boosting properties and often referred to as “liquid gold”.
Breast milk is the first food for the infant and goes on to be the normal source of nourishment for the first six months of the baby’s life. Exclusive nursing is recommended for the first six months of the baby’s life and after start of weaning to solids, WHO recommends continued nursing for a minimum of two years of age or beyond.
What are the benefits of nursing for child and mother?
Nursing, among numerous benefits, is:
- Free – It doesn’t cost a thing to breastfeed.
- Hassle free – It does not need any prep; no bottles or sterilization.
- Beneficial to the infant’s health – Babies who are exclusively nursed for the first six months have fewer illnesses, ear infections and bouts of diarrhea.
- An important factor in lowering the risk of childhood obesity - Studies have found that nursing lowers the risk of childhood obesity since nursed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow than become overweight children.
But while you can go on about the health benefits to a nursed child, nursing also improves the health of the nursing parent.
- Lowers risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer
- Helps to lower blood loss and hasten uterine contraction post delivery
- May help in post delivery weight loss
- Delays the return of fertility in some cases by suppressing ovulation
- Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease
What do the terms extended breastfeeding and full term breastfeeding mean?
Extended breastfeeding is continuing to nurse your child past the WHO stipulated two years, while intending to wean them later, while full term breastfeeding is letting your child breastfeed for as long as they want and self-wean.
Why breastfeed post the first year?
There are many great reasons why you should choose to continue breastfeeding past the first year.
- Breastfeeding continues to be nutritious and contributes to immunity for the whole duration of the breastfeeding relationship.
- In the second year of breastfeeding, the breast milk composition changes to contain higher fat and energy values – and we all know fat is very important for brain development of children. Indeed, a study in Kenya established that breast milk provided upto 32% of the child’s total energy intake on an average.
- Studies have shown that breastfeeding contributes to improved cognitive development.
- In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements
So you see, breastfeeding is only beneficial to a child as well as a mother, and indeed, breastfeeding past the first year is a well informed choice of most parents who choose to continue breastfeeding.
Some myths regarding extended breastfeeding that we hear, DEBUNKED
- “Your child will not eat solids if they breastfeed” – Your child is in fact choosing the most nutrient dense form of nourishment there is. Breast milk has more nutrition that a similar amount of solids. They just realize after a point that they are still hungry after breastfeeding and ask for solids.
- “Your child will not sleep on their own” – In fact, breastfeeding is the EASIEST way to make a child sleep. Breastfeeding, in older children, is rarely about hunger. It is a source of comfort and a means to calm themselves down.
- “Your child will never wean on their own!” – It is not physically possible for a child to nurse once his permanent teeth are in, since it obstructs the latch required to breastfeed. And indeed, we have never known adults to breastfeed, have we?
Have you heard any other myths? Let us know in the comments below!
And as for my 5 year old, he intends to breastfeed until he grows up to be like Appa (his father). Child-led weaning, here we come!